A few years ago, I went on a closet cleaning spree, throwing out bins, boxes, and bags of old clothes that had, for some reason or another, followed me from high school through grad school.
Among these piles of oversized sweaters, faded t-shirts, and sneakers that could seriously walk by themselves was a special little bin of old lingerie; bras and nighties and a few "sexy" gems that made me die of both laughter and embarrassment as soon as I found them. Like a bad haircut from middle school, a bad piece of lingerie is a reminder that once upon a time, you were seriously the lamest person alive. When I reference my old lingerie in this piece, note that I'm not talking about a cute bra or a really sexy, classy piece—I totally believe that a good piece of lingerie can make you feel both confident and sexy. But here, I'm talking about ghosts of sexytimes past- of rhinestones and feathers and Rock of Love bus-esque tackiness.
I should preface this by stating that grew up a bit of a wallflower: I had two boyfriends in high school, and got most of my "sexy" advice from my fellow wallflower friends who had caught a scene on Dawson's Creek or read an article in Cosmo. We were a bunch of nerds who just wanted to make out and impress our equally nerdy boyfriends in doing so. What we believed was "sexy", at 16, was what the world told us was "sexy." In 1997, this meant long blonde hair, fake tans, belly shirts, and big boobs. Aside from belly shirts, which are due for a comeback any second now, not much has changed.
However, for a kid with short hair, non-existent boobs, and skin that puts Edward Cullen to shame, the concept of traditional "sexiness" was far from reach. So I turned to ladymags, hoping to find some magical formula for hotness, as if some crazy move/outfit/sexy phrase would drive my 16-year-old comic-book reading, acne-medication smelling, Billy Corgan worshipping boyfriend crazier than me just saying, "Ok, let's skip class and make out somewhere, you can stick your hands down my pants or whatever, because I looooove you."
College, of course, is the time when many of us start to differentiate between "sexy" and "skanky", though admittedly it takes a while to realize that perhaps wearing tight ass black pants and puking all over the B line isn't the epitome of hotness. I was still pretty shy in school, but when I had my first "serious" boyfriend, I went out and bought the most ridiculous things I could find at Victoria's Secret, for days like Valentine's Day and anniversaries, because I thought that's what women were supposed to do, that's what men expected, etc. I was buying into a marketed notion of sexiness: a "sexy" outfit didn't boost my confidence, it just made me feel stupid and cliche. My boyfriend, of course, loved it.
But here's the thing: my boyfriend was a wallflower, too. A 19 year old who had gotten his view of "sexy" from Maxim the same way I'd gotten it from Cosmo. I think we both expected to turn into Cirque du Soleil members or Porn Star black belts the first time we seriously made out, thanks to the misinformation in our heads. It took us a while to figure out how just to be ourselves, that sexiness wasn't about a stupid outfit or a set of lines or whatever the cliche of the moment happens to be. Sexiness, for us, came from confidence, from knowing who we were and what we wanted.
Over the years I've learned to avoid the "advice" thrown at me as a teenager and embrace the things that make me feel good about myself. Sexy lingerie is all well and good, and I still rock it when I feel the need, but gone are the days of feeling like what's covering my body is more important than my body itself. And of course, old, tacky lingerie is always good for a laugh, and a reminder that as we stumble along toward confidence, we all wear several (stupid) costumes until we finally find that we're truly comfortable in our own skin.